As a high school student, I was a restless wanderer filled with hopes for a bright future with dreams of achieving wild success. I, like many others, aspired to change the world through my immense vision. I, like many youths from inner cities, had few role models to follow as an example. In fact, I spent many nights scratching my head on how to realize such lofty goals. Many of my younger days were filled with using Google and YouTube to teach myself new things and explore unfamiliar topics that piqued my interest. Many of my successes were born out of ambitious curiosity and targeted self-direction.
Sometimes, I wonder how much more I would have accomplished as a young man if I had a mentor guiding me through the various pressures that continue to deter or distract our youth to this day. Most of us may have dealt with peer pressure to act, dress, or talk a certain way just to fit in. We may perform at a lower level in school because we don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Following social norms or trends has a tendency to deafen unique perspectives, drown out courageous voices, and slow down progressive movements. Some would even say that standing out can lead to more pain than freedom. Or does it?
If you asked Britney Robbins, founder and executive director of the Gray Matter Experience, she would likely challenge that notion. The Gray Matter Experience is an entrepreneurial experience program that provides high school students in Chicago with the resources and tools to create businesses that impact their communities. This 12-week program helps develop several students into entrepreneurs through opportunities to participate in workshops, relevant internships, mentorship, field trips, and so much more.
On Saturday, June 1, the Gray Matter Experience wrapped up with their third annual Pitch Black Competition. In this competition, six teams pitched their amazing business ideas that they had been working on over the previous weeks. The pitches ranged from an arts program that aims to keep teens safe from gun violence to a mobile app with an AI that helps students cope with stress to a mobile hair product delivery service. Every team’s pitch was impressive, dynamic and engaging. I believe most attendees in the crowd were in awe by these young minds’ determination to be #GMEChangers.
These students had such command over their futures that they all left that competition as winners. Every student will undoubtedly go on to lead the world into great changes, serving as a courageous voice that will not be deafened, bringing fresh perspectives to ever-present challenges. I marvel at the determination that these young visionaries have to actualize their missions to impact their communities. Although the world is waiting for better, these students simply will not. They are the change that we wish to see.